Sunday, March 30, 2008

A glorious racket

I'm listening to a documentary program on the CBC right now about the history of the bagpipes and I'm finding it really fascinating.

I've always liked bagpipes. The fact that they're really an ancient instrument has always appealed to me. They've changed immensely over the years and have hundreds of variations but they've all got a similar sound, something really old sounding.

I think part of it too is that bagpipes have always been mainly an instrument played in rural areas. They're a kind of throwback to times when most people lived a more pastoral, pre-industrial lifestyle. It's not particularly unusual that I feel a kind of nostalgic sense of yearning for an idealized and possibly nonexistent 'simple' life. I think I'm in good company there because a couple hundred years' worth of European poets and intellectuals have done the same.

I like that they're so spread out geographically, through northern and western Europe, the Balkans, Northern Africa, the Middle East and India, and have adapted to so many different folk music traditions. They remind me that we may be different but we come from similar roots.

I like that they remind me of empty, wide-open places and funerals.

My problem with playing them was that you have to keep your fingers straight when you're playing. Mine always got tense and locked up so I had a lot of difficulty getting them to move fast enough to play gracenotes. Add that to my general lack of patience for mastering musical instruments and eventually I put my bagpipe chanter down and really haven't touched it since.

That was back in the day before youtube. Nowadays there are tons of handy tutorials to help you with stuff like that so maybe when I find my chanter again, I'll have to try it out.

Youtube's good for that. It helps me with knitting techniques that I don't understand. Though the fact that you can learn to fly a plane there kind of scares me.